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EU proposes Minority Report-style facial recognition for refugees

Justice & Home Affairs

EU proposes Minority Report-style facial recognition for refugees

Facial recognition is a staple trope of futuristic, dystopian thrillers such as Minority Report.

[20th Century Fox/YouTube]

In its attempts to bring the refugee crisis to heel, the European Commission wants to expand its fingerprint database, introduce facial recognition software, store the information for even longer than before and include minors in the process. EurActiv Germany reports.

The EU is planning wholesale changes to the bloc’s asylum law. In addition to a “fairer” distribution system for refugees and an extension of border controls within the Schengen area, the Eurodac fingerprint database, which is currently used to identify asylum seekers and irregular migrants, is to be enlarged.

The system is set to be supplemented with facial recognition software and personal data will be stored for a longer period of time, with the aim of ensuring that irregular migrants stay on the authorities’ radar; the information of underage refugees will also be kept. The upgrade will cost some €30 million.

Commission to give green light to extension of border controls

The European Commission wants to give Germany and other member states the option of extending internal border controls beyond the middle of May. EurActiv’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

Eurodac was introduced at the turn of the millennium to support the Dublin System. The database is updated with the fingerprints of asylum seekers so that the relevant migration body can determine where an applicant first entered the EU and so that duplicate applications are not submitted.

In its plan, the Commission criticised the current rules for restricting the collection of asylum seeker data too much. Member states cannot check the fingerprints of apprehended migrants that have no residence status and have not submitted an application yet.

The executive’s proposal states that an upgrade of the Eurodac database could be just what the member states need to bring irregular migration under control and increase “the effectiveness of the EU’s returns policy”. It is intended that the database be used as a centralised tool to collect the biometric data of all non-EU citizens on European soil.

Besides increasing the amount of time data can be stored, from 18 months to five years, border authorities will be allowed to use facial recognition tools as well. The scheme insists that police and border guards will be able to establish the identity of people more efficiently and quickly using the specialist software.

In the Commission’s view, fingerprint collection is no longer sufficient, as third country nationals often use means “to deceive” the curent system. Biometric technology is therefore a “central component” of the new European asylum system.

It has also been proposed that the minimum age of refugees whose biometric data can be collected be lowered. Instead of the current rules, in which the minimum age is 14, unaccompanied minors as young as six years old will be eligible to be included, as research has now shown that fingerprint recognition of such young people can be carried out with a “satisfactory level of precision”.

The Commission insisted that such a measure would improve the legal situation of the minors. Many unaccompanied child refugees that arrived in Europe over the last year have disappeared off the grid and have no access to utilities as a result.

Nearly 90,000 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in EU in 2015

Some 88,300 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the European Union in 2015, 13% of them children younger than 14, crossing continents without their parents to seek a place of safety, EU data showed on Monday (2 May).

Fingerprint collection and facial recognition of minors will allegedly be “child-friendly” and “empathetic”, with special officers charged with carrying out the process. Literature will also be produced that will explain in “age-appropriate language” the process.

To ensure that the data is collected, member states are also set to be authorised to use measures against non-compliant individuals. Penalties should be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”, as well as being in line with existing national laws. Detaining people should only be used as a “last resort” and only when all other means of identifying the individual have been exhausted.

These sanctions will not apply to unaccompanied minors though.

Parliament refuses to allocate more EU aid money to migration crisis

MEPs yesterday (28 April) blocked a motion to increase spending from the European Development Fund on the migration crisis, resisting the creeping securitisation of aid spending. EurActiv France reports.

When facial recognition software will be rolled out on the borders remains unclear. According to research carried out by, the EU does not actually have the software necessary to process digital facial images and it will be 2020 at the earliest when the Commission will have a feasability study ready on which computer programmes are suitable for EU-wide rollout.

Security officials will be allowed to take photographs under the new amendment though. But until automated software is rolled out, border guards will have to rely exclusively on their own judgement when identifying individuals.